King Of Clay: Nadal Beats Thiem, Wins 11th Coupe Des Mousquetaires Trophy

Rafael Nadal (photo: Roland Garros)

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

The last time that Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem met, last month in the ATP Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open, the 24-year-old Austrian ended Nadal’s 21-match and 50-set winning streaks on clay. Everyone attending Sunday’s French Open men’s singles final in person on Court Philippe Chatrier as well as those watching on TV around the world all asked the same question: Can Thiem do it again and beat Nadal in the final at Roland Garros?

As it happened, the answer was no. In what seemed at times like a blowout but was actually decided by just a few service breaks, Thiem did not play bad. Nadal just played better.

Nadal captured his 11th French Open crown by defeating Thiem, the only man to defeat him on clay during the past two years, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. The victory solidified the King of Clay’s No. 1 world ranking as the grass-court season awaits. It was Nadal’s first major title victory with Carlos Moya as his primary coach after long being coached by his uncle Toni Nadal.

Nadal, 32, who was trying to become the first player – man or woman – to win 11 titles at three different tournaments, including his 11th Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros, was solid in winning 82 percent (46 of 56) of his first-serve points. Also, he controlled the net, where he won 16 of 18 opportunities, and broke Thiem five times in 17 chances. Nadal hit 26 winners to offset 24 unforced errors.

Thiem countered with seven service aces but committed five double faults. He won 40 of 59 (67 percent) of his first-serve points, but had trouble with winning points on his second serve, converting just 34 percent (15 of 43) of his chances. Thiem broke Nadal just once in three tries. He hit 34 winners but committed 42 unforced errors. Nadal outpointed Thiem 105-79.

“I’m very happy right now,” said Nadal during an on-court interview with French TV before the trophy presentation began. Nadal addressed the crowd in both French and English.

Throughout the two hour and 42 minute match, Nadal was cool under pressure. Playing under humid conditions, the match featured many long, grueling rallies between both finalists. The first seven games lasted 45 minutes alone and set a tone for the remainder of the match. When Thiem was broken at love in the 10th game, it gave Nadal the first set 6-4.

Early on, BBC5 Live’s David Law, co-host of The Tennis Podcast, tweeted about Thiem: “Has the basic artillery to live with Nadal. Whether that’s sustainable, another matter. Might rattle Rafa, though.”

Christopher Clarey, tennis columnist for The New York Times, added: “Even by Nadal’s standards, his start to this match is INTENSE. Amp turned up to 11, which seems quite the appropriate number.”

Nadal got off to a fast start by winning the first six points of the match and broke for a quick 2-0 lead. The Spaniard hit many memorable forehand winners, a tribute to his drive and determination, but credit to Thiem for rebounding from down 0-2. However, the Austrian placed just 45 percent of his first serves in play in the opening set and won just 57 percent of those points. Thiem, it seemed, put far too much pressure on his second serve, and he missed several makable volleys near the net.

Thiem knew he had to be perfect to beat Nadal for the first time in a best-of-5 set match – and after the first set, he faced the unenviable task of having to win three of the remaining four sets.  Plus, in the back of his mind, he must have been aware of this stat: Nadal is is 95-0 when he wins the first set in a best-of-5 set match on clay.

The second set began similar to the first as Nadal jumped out to a 3-0 lead. He exhibited an ability to absorb everything Thiem hit at him and not get down anytime he lost a point. Nadal would lose 79 points during the match, still knowing he would come out ahead at the end. Ahead 4-2, it prompted NBC analyst and Hall of Famer John McEnroe to comment about Thiem for his television audience watching back in the U.S., “He’s got to find a gear he’s never used in order to beat Nadal. … I just don’t think he has it in him.” Although Thiem fought, he couldn’t regain the break that he surrendered to Nadal early in the set and Nadal won the second set 6-3.

Nadal wasted little time in breaking Thiem early to go ahead 2-1 at the start of the third set. It seemed no matter how well Thiem played, Nadal was ridiculously just a little better. The effort Nadal displayed throughout the match – as well as the entire tournament – was remarkable. Not even a cramped left hand, which Nadal sustained after holding for 3-1, could detour him. After all, he’s still a pretty lethal player with just nine functioning fingers.

As Nadal served for the match, ahead 5-2, Thiem fought off four match points before the inevitable happened. On his fifth championship point, Nadal won the game and the set 6-2 – and clinched the match for his 17th Grand Slam championship title, which moved him to within three of Roger Federer’s career-leading 20.

Nadal lifted his arms high and raised his head toward the heavens in celebration. La Undécima was all his to savor. Then, he and Thiem arrived at the net together from opposite directions and shared a long embrace before walking off the terre battue.

Give props to Thiem for fighting hard and playing well – even in defeat. He was trying to become the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1995 to win the French Open. During an on-court interview, Thiem told McEnroe: “I fought for every ball, but Rafa was just too good. I have to accept it. To play here is one of the toughest challenges in all of sports.

“Even when Rafa isn’t 100 percent,” said Thiem referring to Nadal’s hand cramp late in the match, “he’s still pretty amazing.”

After receiving the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy from 1968 French Open winner Ken Rosewall, Nadal lifted it three times high above his head, then accepted the thunderous applause in a very prolonged ovation from the French crowd. It brought tears to Nadal’s eyes followed a few moments later by a big smile. He clutched the trophy in both arms close to his chest as the Spanish national anthem, “Marcha Real,” was played.

After the trophy presentation, Nadal was asked on court by McEnroe to describe the feeling of winning his 11th French Open title. He said, “It’s impossible to describe the feeling. This is the tournament I love to win.

“I’ve received all this love and appreciation from the crowd and I thank everyone. The emotions are always high when you win something you think is impossible.”

By winning, Nadal matched Margaret Court’s record of claiming 11 singles title at the same Grand Slam. It also improved his Roland Garros win-loss record to an astonishing 86-2, and he’s now won 111 best-of-5 sets clay-court matches and lost only two during his remarkable career.

En route to his 11th Roland Garros title, Nadal dropped just one set the entire fortnight, against Diego Schwartzman in the first set of their quarterfinal match that started on Wednesday. Nadal finished by winning nine consecutive sets, which included three in his quarterfinal win over Schwartzman, three in his semifinal win over Juan Martín del Potro, and three against Thiem in the final. Nadal, who improved his win-loss record to 30-2 this season,  has won his last 12 matches – all on clay. Now, it’s on to the grass-court season for Nadal with his No. 1 ranking secured for now and the start of the Wimbledon fortnight just three weeks away.

Czech Republic pair wins women’s doubles

The Czech Republic duo of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova won their first Grand Slam doubles title over Eri Hozumi and Makato Ninomiya, both of Japan, 6-3, 6-3, in 65 minutes on Sunday afternoon. The No. 6 seeds have a long history of excellence together. In 2013, Siniakova and Krejcikova won the French Open junior doubles title and also captured the Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior doubles titles later that year. They became the first all-Czech pair to win the women’s French Open since Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in 2011.

Herbert and Mahut triumph in men’s doubles

Sixth-seeded Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut became just the third all-French Roland Garros champions in the Open era when they beat the No. 2 seeds Oliver Marach of Austria and Mate Pavic of Croatia, 6-2, 7-6 (4) on Saturday afternoon. Marach and Pavic were playing in their third Grand Slam final in the past 12 months.

“It’s certain that the first title is always very special. But to tell the truth, the feelings I felt is almost like the first, because it’s at home,” said Herbert. “Roland Garros is ‘the’ tournament When you’re a French guy,  you want to win it. You dream of winning such a tournament.”

Mahut added, “It was a beautiful surprise play on centre court. I don’t know if it was almost full or what, but we had a feeling that they were really present. We were hearing ‘allez les Bleus’ and ‘LaMarseillaise’ at the end. These are things I will never forget.”